You’ve finally decided to take the leap. You know you need to break out of your city and get in front of your fans across the country or maybe even the world, and you’re all in. There’s just one small obstacle…you’re kind of broke.
Hey, it’s ok! As a working musician, in the early days especially, it might be hard to scrape together the cash for an expansive or robust tour. Don’t forget, your favorite bands started on a diet of rest stop food and crossing their fingers that their van didn’t break down in the middle of the desert.
Which brings me to this…when you’re setting out on tour, there are a lot of ways to save your pennies and still have an amazing time. The first step, of course, is figuring out what you can really afford, so be sure that before you map out your tour you have a solid budget in mind (IE your max spending allowance for every category: food, hotel, repairs, etc) and then stick to it.
Be mindful of routing
You might be surprised to find out how many bands get a little loopy with their tour routing, and end up backtracking and going out of their way for no logical reason, costing them tons in extra gas, time, energy, and possibly even hotel costs. It can be such an overwhelming process, and in the midst of the chaos you might want to jet over to another city and add a show or go visit your distant aunt for a place to stay, but you want to try to make a clean routing schedule priority.
When you sit down to plan it all out, be diligent about creating (and sticking to) a route that makes sense, while hitting as many places as possible. You’re trying to get the most bang for your buck here.
Also, since you’ll be clear on your budget when putting together this routing, be mindful of that as well. You might want to embark on a two week, twelve city tour, but if your budget only allows for a week-long five day tour, that might have to suffice for now.
Pack your own food
I don’t need to tell you that even the cheapest of fast food will not only get gross after a while, but it’s not really that cheap when you’re eating it 2-3 times a day and feeding 5 people. By packing your own snacks and, as much as you can, meals, you’re not only saving money you’re probably saving your health a little too. (and your performance will thank you!)
A couple ideas: sandwiches (deli meat and cheeses if you have a small cooler, as well as salads—ham, egg, etc) or the classic PB&J. You can also bring things that require a microwave, which you can use at most rest stops, like “just add water” meals (mac and cheese cups, ramen, etc—maybe not the healthiest of options but it’ll do for comfort food in a pinch!)
Don’t let pride get in the way here. If you have friends, family, other bands or even distant acquaintances you know in the cities you’re passing through, reach out about a place to stay. You’d be surprised how many people will be willing to help you out. If you don’t know anyone where you’re going, ask around—maybe one of your friends or fans knows someone who loves to host a good house show and give the band a place to crash for the night. You never know.
If all else fails, pull the classic move of booking and splitting a cheap (but clean!) hotel room with double beds and a cot. But I’d try the first option first—way more fun!
Make the most of every stop
If you have days off, fill them with house shows or coffee shops or pop up performances. Meet fans everywhere you go, as much and as often as possible. Host special meet and greets or post on social media when and where you’ll be at lunch when you’re in whatever city and invite fans to come meet up with you. Email bands before you get to their city and ask if they want to meet up (bonus: this is a great way to build your relationships and if all goes well, they may even be willing to help out with spreading the word about your show!
Invest in a quality vehicle
I know, this one might not seem like an affordable option, but if you’re going to spend money anywhere, spend it on the thing that’s keeping you safe and getting you from city to city. Trust me on this one, you don’t want to skimp on the vehicle repairs and just cross your fingers that nothing goes wrong. Make sure whatever vehicle you’re using is going to get you safely to point A to point B with as little incident as possible. It’ll be worth the stress you save yourself.